It’s a fox-eat-fox world out there, and Disney apparently has avoided becoming a meal. A California judge today threw out a big-money copyright lawsuit against its Oscar-winning toon Zootopia by the screenwriter of Total Recall, who had claimed that the studio ripped off his same-titled pitch.
Gary L. Goldman’s Esplanade Productions filed the suit March, three weeks after the film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. “They copied Goldman’s themes, settings, plot, characters, and dialogue – some virtually verbatim,” the copyright infringement and breach of implied-in-fact contract suit alleged, adding Goldman’s claim that he pitched the idea to executives at and connected to Disney in 2000 and 2009. “They copied Goldman’s title,Zootopia. They even copied Goldman’s character designs and artwork.”
Disney fired back the same day, countering that the billion-dollar-grossing pic was its alone. “Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations,” a Disney spokesperson told Deadline then. “It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.”
Looks now like it won’t have to. This morning, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald held that Goldman didn’t present enough evidence of infringement.
“Esplanade alleges that Goldman twice shared a synopsis and treatment for the movie Looney, along with his ideas for a larger franchise called Zootopia, with Disney agents and executives,” Fitzgerald wrote (read the ruling here). “The parties now dispute whether Goldman’s materials are sufficiently similar to the Disney film to support an action for copyright infringement. But despite both parties’ urging, the Court cannot engage in a copying analysis on the merits because Esplanade failed either to attach the allegedly infringed materials to the Complaint, or to describe them in sufficient detail to permit the requested analysis. In this action, as in every action, it is the plaintiff’s obligation to allege sufficient facts, if proved true, to permit a jury to rule in the plaintiff’s favor. Esplanade has not met that burden here.
Among the Zootopia similarities that Goldman had alleged were the character designs (see them below). “The differences between the character designs outnumber the similarities,” Fitzgerald wrote in dismissing the case. “And the animation style itself is very different between the two sets of characters: whereas the Disney characters are typically cute and appealing, [Goldman’s] characters evoke a darker, seedier aesthetic.”
Judge for yourself: